The national rollout of eScripts has experienced a false start, with the Australian Digital Health Agency asking GP software companies to remove the electronic prescribing functionality that was only launched in late July.
GPs who were early adopters and already updated their software to issue eScript tokens will still be able to use the function.
But for others, the update will remain unavailable, unless your practice is one of the designated “communities of interest”.
The ADHA is also asking for general practices outside these designated areas to halt all eScripts until pharmacies are ready to receive the digital tokens.
Lorraine Pyefinch, board director of Best Practice, said that GP practice software companies had done everything required of them to deliver eScript functionality as quickly as possible.
The company announced the general availability of their eScript software in late July.
“In the first week that our utility was available, it was downloaded several hundred times by practices across the country and as far as we know, the practices had been doing the right thing and contacting local pharmacies to check before issuing any scripts,” Mrs Pyefinch told The Medical Republic.
“Also as per our instructions, GPs were ensuring that if a patient’s preferred pharmacy was not ready for eScripts, they would issue a paper script, as per usual.”
But it’s clear something has gone awry in either the coordination or communication of successfully launching eScripts across general practices and the pharmacy sector.
Shortly after eScript functionality was launched by the GP software vendors, there was concern from the ADHA, Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and the Pharmacy Guild that patients would present tokens to pharmacies that were not compatible for dispensing from a digital script.
David Clarke, CEO of Corum Group Australia, a pharmacy software company, said all the major vendors were meeting on a weekly basis with the ADHA to work on the fast-tracking of eScripts.
He said that while all vendors had the technology ready to roll out, there were significant challenges with having GPs ready before pharmacies.
“A GP can choose when to issue an electronic script or a paper script, but the pharmacy is a taker and doesn’t have a choice when someone walks in the door,” he said.
“Pharmacists don’t have a choice about dispensing because if the script is delivered electronically, they have to dispense it electronically and if they aren’t set up to do it, then they have to send the person away.
“While the GP can wait to use this functionality, the pharmacy doesn’t have that choice.”
Mr Clarke said GPs who can already issue eScripts should for now:
- Check with the ADHA if you are in a community of interest
- Don’t issue an eScript unless you know a particular pharmacy can accept it
- Decide whether a paper or eScript is most appropriate
- Reiterate to the patient that they have to take the eScript to the pharmacy they nominated, or it may not be able to be dispensed.
While the ADHA is yet to confirm when electronic prescribing will be widely available, it will now be a staged release beginning in Melbourne, followed by regional Victoria, Sydney, and then expanding to other cities.
GPs are also starting to question whether the “fast-tracked” version of electronic prescribing will be delivered to plan.
Originally a two-year plan, the COVID-19 National Health Plan for primary care said ePrescribing would be fast-tracked for up to 80% of general practices and community pharmacies by the start of June.
But by June, most GPs started to wonder when they would be able to access the scheme.
A month beyond its original deadline, the Department of Health told The Medical Republic that the government’s plan to fast-track the implementation of electronic prescribing, as part of its COVID-19 response, was being rolled out by the end of July.
Bettina McMahon, interim CEO of the ADHA defended the coordination of the rollout, saying nothing had gone wrong.
“Everybody involved, and all the vendors, have known about the plan,” she said.
But Ms McMahon said GP software vendors may have jumped the gun on announcing the availability of eScripts.
“I’ve seen some vendors who have been actively promoting ahead of the community of interest plan for their customers to upgrade their software, and that was out of step with the plan we’ve been talking about for months,” she said.
“We’ve had a couple of instances of consumers turning up to pharmacies with eScripts and not being able to have their medication dispensed, which is not a crisis, but it’s something we want to avoid.”
Ms McMahon turned the confusion into a positive, saying it was nice to know so many people were eagerly anticipating the scheme’s arrival.
“It’s a good problem to have, in knowing that people are excited about the availability of eScripts in the coming months,” she said.